WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – Welcome to wonderfully scenic city of Wellington, New Zealand. Besides being the hometown of RWU’s, “Welly” is home to the New Zealand leg of the World Rugby HSBC Sevens World Series. For good measure, we want to say, one more time, that World Rugby should just re-name the series, the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
The Wellington 7s is the 4th stop on the 7s circuit. It is the first 7s tournament of the calendar year and marks the start of the middle 1/3rd of the series. As we have done for the other legs of the series, we will look at the Men’s USA 7s program going into this leg, the tournament and we will attempt to predict the final results of the tournament.
After an impressive start to the series by winning the Bowl in Australia, the Eagles were humbled in Dubai. They followed up Dubai with a fantastic performance in South Africa and won the Plate. It may be to early to canonize head coach Mike Friday and assistant coach Chris Brown as the saints that will get the USA qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympics, USA fans are happy. However their work, along with National Program Director Alex Magleby has been nothing short of impressive. The team still has a steep learning curve and developing consistency will be critical. Going into Wellington, let’s look at the 3 main issues effecting the US side.
Squad Changes (+/-): Former captain and series veteran Nick Edwards makes a return as Aladdin Schirmer is bumped to the non-traveling reserve list. The meteoric rise of Ahmad Harajly continues as he comes in for Pat Blair. Brown and Friday have been big on making sure players are aware that you are only as good as your most recent camp. It may mess with fluidity but it may also improve the intensity with which the players play and practice at.
Team chemistry: The return of Nick Edwards will add a veteran workhorse to offset the addition of the raw Harajly. Friday is still looking for the right combination of experience, skills and know how. He has yet to find it but his chopping and changing is not without a plan to keep everyone sharp. What it also adds is more players accustomed to the stage and pressure of a big match. Hopefully with the major veteran edition of Edwards combined with the leaders that exist it will help the team.
Inconsistency: The last time the USA played well in back to back tournaments was during the second half of their one season with Magleby as head coach. Before that it’s tough to remember and in the year plus since Mags stepped down, it hasn’t existed. Through 3 games this season, we have seen the team play well, poor then well again.
What does this mean going in to the tournament?
Optimist view: Friday is getting bigger results in less time than his predecessors, so the team beginning to be more consistent should start now.
Cynic view: The team has improved but is still is lacking focus in finishing a game and basics at times. Friday is good but this team will need more time.
RWU view: We are nervous! We are starting to believe in just how good the USA program can be. However, it doesn’t feel like it will happen now. Maybe next week or in the 6th round and on.
The Wellington leg is known for being the most fan costume wearing leg of the tour. However, this leg is where the chasing pack in the standings splits between the contenders and pretenders. Also the leg is usually were the hosts New Zealand start to stamp their authority in previous years.
Here are our pool previews:
Pool A: South Africa, USA, France and Japan
This is a somewhat straight group. South Africa will win the group and Japan will finish last. The tricky part is who will finish 2nd. Both USA and France can be a tough side when they show up. We are blinded by our USA bias and vote Amurikka!!
Pool B: New Zealand, England, Canada, Papua New Guinea
If this event wasn’t in New Zealand, this group would not be so straight forward. New Zealand sweeps the group at home, England gets 2nd, a re-building Canada 3rd and PNG to be the cannon fodder.
Pool C: Fiji, Australia, Portugal, Wales
Fiji will take this group because this is as close to a home tournament as they get. Australia are no slouches this year and will fight for 1st before finishing 2nd. Expect a small upset as Portugal will snatch 3rd from Wales as this Welsh side seems a bit too young and inconsistent.
Pool D: Samoa, Argentina, Scotland and Kenya
Despite recalling some legends like Collins Injera, this season will be an unmitigated disaster for Kenya Rugby so they will be last in this group. Samoa like Fiji will be as close to hosting atournament as they will ever get so expect them to play well and win the group. They will be followed by a tough Argentina side and a feisty Scotland side that will not go down quietly.
Here are our final predictions:
Cup: New Zealand
Second: South Africa
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp,Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd, Karen Ritter , Jamie Wall, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.
And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.